Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Submitted by Tsiatsan on Wednesday, November 25 2009
güncel For the Sunnis, that is the officially adopted creed of Islam of the Otoman Empire, Alevism was a heterodox belief, often treated as heretics (‘rafizi’ in the Otoman lexicon). The imperial center could live with this cultural difference if it did not see the Alevis as a fifth column that could always side with the Safavi state in Iran.

Shah Ismail, the Safavi ruler was a Turkmen Alevi and extended the borders of his state into Anatolia with relative ease because there were large numbers of Alevis in eastern Anatolia. The Alevis of Anatolia and bulk of the Safavi population were both Turkmens. Hence they posed a grave danger for the defense of the eastern flank of the Ottoman Empire, just as they inhibited the expansionist ambitions of their rulers into Iran. That is why whenever there was a conflict between the Ottoman and Safavi states, tens of thousands of Alevis were decimated to “clear the way” as a precaution for security.

There were two more reasons why the Ottoman rulers gave orders for the liquidation of large numbers of Alevis. The first was economic; Anatolian Alevis sent their religious tax named NEZIR to the Safavi dynasty. Secondly during the reign of Sultan Selim 1 (Yavuz), Egypt was conquered and the post and title of Islamic Caliphate was adopted by the Ottoman ruler to be a permanent title of the succeeding Ottoman sultans. As the head of the Sunni community, Sultan Selim, saw the Alevis not only as heretics but a danger to his rule as the Caliph of Sunni Muslims. They were not the right kind of Muslims and their loyalty was questionable.

As the Ottoman state became more Sunni oriented, Anatolian Alevis saw Iran as a protector of their religious creed and their physical existence. This consanguinity between Anatolian Alevis and the Safavi state was translated into the latter’s claim on the Ottoman state’s eastern lands. Sultan Selim 1, decided to put an end to this constant threat with a major military campaign. However, before the campaign, the way forward had to be ‘cleared’ of impediments. He obtained religious edicts (fetvas) from Islamic authorities who claimed that Alevis were infidels, their lives, wives and property could rightly be expropriated by Muslims and anyone who helped them would equally be deemed infidels and decimated as well.

Tens of thousands of Alevi Turkmen were massacred before and during the Ottoman-Safavi war at Çaldıran in 1514. Many of the remaining Turkmen Alevis escaped either to Iran or into lands out of Ottoman reach, to what are now called Azerbaijan. Selims’s son, Sultan Suleiman (the magnificent) made sure that eastern Anatolia was not ruled by Turkmens any more but Kurds of Sunni and Shafi conviction. He endorsed the autonomy of Kurdish feudal lords (Beys), provided that they remained loyal to Istanbul and kept the Alevi Turkmens under control. This meant that the Kurdish Beys could recruit their own armed forces and did not have to pay tax to the imperial center. This official understanding remained intact until 1850, the period when the Ottoman state began to modernize. Modernization required the weakening of traditional institutions and local authorities and strengthening of the central administration. This meant recruitment of Kurdish men into the imperial army that was in constant war with western powers as well as subject non-Muslim nations and paying tax which they did not since the beginning of the Ottoman state.

During this debacle not only a great number of Alevi Turkmens of eastern Anatolia were physically liquidated, many had converted to Sunnism and posed as Kurds, a process that ended in real conversion and loss of identity as centuries passed. But the lasting effect of these harsh official policies came with religious edicts that shaped the popular psyche against the Alevis, permanently demonizing and rendering them preys to the Sunni majority. Seyh-ul Islam Ebussud Efendi (1545-1574) have legitimized the massacre of Alevis with may fetvas (decrees) promising those who killed seven Alevis a place in heaven. Based on these decrees and the degree of danger assessment, the Ottoman state have resorted to successive massacres, the most radical being the Kuyucu Murat Pasha’s (Grand Vezier after 1606, nick name ‘well-driller’) who has sieved eastern Anatolia off the Alevis, burying 155 thousand of them in mass graves dead or alive. That is why he is called “kuyucu”, for the well like graves he has ordered to be dug. From that period onwards, Alevis ceased to a recognizable force and visible people in Anatolia until the republic.

As enforced by the state authority, popular religion among Muslims became more Sunni and the east became more Kurdish. Both outcomes are looked upon as a “problematic” today by present republican authority who has inherited the state from their Ottoman predecessors.

Regarding the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Turkey was in turmoil because of Sunni-Alevi tensions, Kurdish and Armenian nationalism in which the Alevis were forced to take sides. After the declaration of constitutional monarchy in 1908 by the Young Turks (the Union and Progress Committee/Party), Alevis found a more open political space to exert their identity. But then they were asked to take sides in the fight against irredentist Armenian nationalism and encroaching Russian forces. Turkish Alevis sided with the Young Turk Government although they did not take part in the liquidation of Armenians. Kurdish Alevis on the other hand cooperated with the Armenians and protected them as they did in the 1894-1896 bloody repression of Armenians who wanted better government and an autonomous administration. Kurdish Alevis helped tens of thousands of Armenians to flee the country into Russia.

Neither the Young Turk government nor its Kemalist sequel during the republic forgot about this ‘betrayal’. Alevis were discriminated against because they did not fit into the ‘proper’ definition of citizenship of the republic that was identified as Turkish and Sunni (Hanefi version of this denomination). Turkish Alevis were left out because of their beliefs; Kurdish Alevis were left out because of their ethnic belonging. Thus the republic lost a natural ally that could lend strong support for its secular character for the Alevi conviction is very compatible with secular values and its fundamental asset, namely gender equality lends adoption of modern democratic values easier than any other Muslim denomination or sect.

The founders of the Republic of Turkey were Ottoman military and civilian bureaucrats and members of the small educated middle class. They have inherited two things from the ancient regime. 1- The dichotomy of state and society and the unquestionable power of the state over the latter that materialized as tutelage. 2- Need of standardization and control of the society that has been ripped apart by sectarian factionalism and ethnic nationalism. This meant further centralization and modernization under the guidance of the state (elite).

To these they added three more readings of the past: 1- The Ottoman system collapsed because it was backward, oriental, religious (that has inhibited enlightenment and scientific orientation) and too heterogeneous. 2- Modernization was a must and it meant westernization and secularization. 3- The new format of the state would not be multi-ethnic and multi confessional but rather a nation-state that would be built on a uniform nation that thinks believes and acts alike. Thus such a nation had to be built as soon as possible at all costs.

Forging a uniform nation out of the heterogeneous Ottoman population meant official intolerance to differences. Intolerance meant either forceful assimilation or clearance of different groups that resisted assimilation. So assimilation followed by eviction and decimation of the ‘others’ became inbuilt characteristics of the republican regime.

These policies were not seen only as instruments of state building but also safety mechanisms to uphold and to advance the republican state; in short, aspects of national security. Once this understanding became the background of the regime and national security, every initiative to standardize the population and creating a uniform nation obedient to its creator became legitimate.

Nation building was seen as a prerogative of the state that saw the society as an amorphous plastic mass without a history, cultural heritage and an undifferentiated whole. With no cultural diversity, ethnic and religious variety and a historical baggage, this ‘plastic entity was to be shaped at will by the founding republican elite as a secular, western, modern and uniform nation of Turks.

However, there were two difficulties of Turkifying the whole nation. First the name of the state and the legislative assembly was non-ethnic. Republic of Turkey rather than Turkish Republic, and Grand National Assembly of Turkey rather than Turkish Grand National Assembly implied that there were other ethnic groups besides Turks inhabiting the national territory called Turkey. The same goes for the supreme decision making body; the Grand National Assembly was not Turkish but ‘of Turkey’ or belonged to the whole of Turkey’s citizens.

The ruling elite did everything in their power to convince the people that ‘Turkish’ did not imply an ethnic reductionism but it denoted a cultural collectivity that represented every citizen of the republic. However, practice, laws and education; restrictions on cultural expression worked otherwise. Soon Turkishness proved to be an ethnic quality that denoted superiority of the Turks over other ethnic groups of the state. All others, as the Minister of Justice of the day, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt ((1892-1943)said (on the 19th of September 1930), “Turks are the only master and owner of this country, those who do not come from a pure Turkish lineage has one right only, to be a servant and to be slave”. This no ordinary man, he is a lawyer and Minister of Justice and the venue where these arrogant words are uttered is the Parliament. So much for equality and social justice!

Standardization of the nation had already taken great strides before the 1930s. Armenians of the Ottoman state found no hospitable atmosphere to come back after the 1915 deportation. Greeks were exchanged with the Muslims of Greece in mid 1920s. Now it was time to secure the submission and assimilation of the Kurds that was once the instrument of decimation of the Alevi Turkmens several centuries back, just as staging a continual policy of deterring Muslim minorities to remain in Turkey. These policies were put into effect as a mixture of incessant repression and discrimination and occasional pogroms. Pogroms against the Kurds followed mutinies but those that discouraged non-Muslims to remain in their ancestral homeland were not provoked by any means except the distrust and distaste of the governments that trickled down to the popular level. The other factor was the raw appetite of the government to confiscate the property and wealth of the non-Muslims and transfer their riches to Muslims in order to create a national bourgeoisie.

When one looks back to the republican times and tries to understand how the state viewed and treated the Kurds and how the Kurds felt, there is an ironic relationship. The Kurds were never a majority. Due to the definition of the nation as a composition of Turks, they were not treated as a part of the majority just as they did not feel so as Kurds. Were they a minority? They were not afforded with a legal status as such. Furthermore, Kurds never thought themselves to be a minority for two reasons. First they were not a conquered and subdued people like the Christians and other non-Muslim peoples. Secondly they always felt to be an equal defender of the country against foreign intruders. So they were entitled to be among the constitutive elements of the republican state. However, they were never treated as such because Kurdishness was ‘other’ than Turkish and the nation was ideologically designed as Turkish. So what were they? Looking at the way they were treated, the Kurds were an accessory. Like all unnecessary accessories they were expendable.

Kurds would either submit to assimilation, meaning accept being Turks or be invisible either through physical disappearance or staying out of sight. The forces of assimilation could have worked to a great extent however; conditions of assimilation were never offered other than coercion that did not work in a traditional society with a large population. For assimilation without force you need three things: 1) A state that offers equal citizenship without questioning who you are. This inclusive political umbrella has a place for everyone under it.
2- Existence of a national market and economic opportunities to take part in it. 3- Liquidation of traditional formations and institutions and emancipation of the individual. This could be rephrased as individualization and freedom from the oppression of traditions and traditional relationships. 4- Participation in politics and having the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of one’s quality of life.

None of these instruments were offered to the Kurds except the dictum of being happy or proud for being a Turk. It did not work. Kurds, especially those living in the Eastern provinces, having no access to these instruments and opportunities remained unassimilated. They staged multiple revolts in opposition to exclusionist centralization and the harsh measures of assimilation that forced people to be Turkish, meaning abandoning all other collective/cultural identities, be Sunni (Hanefi version), secular, western oriented and obedient to the state. This is the short history of Turkey’s self made Kurdish and Alevi problem.


As regards the Alevi problem, the historical seeds of it were already sawn as pointed out before. However, the Republic could have omitted such a problem. First of all Alevism is the Anatolian of Turkish version of Islam that has not followed the orthodox Sunni tradition carried on by the Umayyad and Abbasids following the “Age of Felicity”, that means times of prophet Muhammad and the four elected Caliphs. After the assassination of Caliph Ali and slaughter of his son Hussein that did not submit to the Ummayad’s dynastic claim, Alevis rejected to follow the Arabic line of religious doctrine and practice. A much more doctrinaire and radical interpretation of Islam that follows the line of Ali appeared in Iran and Iraq with a quasi church organization, namely the Shia. However, Alevism is a humanitarian and naturalistic blend of Islam with Shamanism brought from Asia by migrating nomadic Turkmen tribes that later intermingled with Zaraostrianism, Christianity and other regional belief systems. It does not encompass hierarchy. Thus it did not require obedience to an external authority. Its view of divinity is anthropomorphic as well as animistic: God is everywhere, in human beings as well. It is a community centered creed and Alevi communities are equalitarian horizontally (among individuals as well as genders) and vertically (they believe in self rule).

All these traits are blasphemous for the Sunni creed and intrinsically dangerous for despotic Sunni rulers. So Alevis were both liquidated and kept under great pressure that did not allow them to appear at the public sphere until several decades ago although the republican regime ought to be more equalitarian and the Alevis had collectively supported M.K. Ataturk’s national struggle that brought down the dynastic Sunni rule symbolized by the Caliphate.. However, their public appearance after massive migration from the countryside where they were dispersed to remote corners of the country to escape official oppression and Sunni local intrusion, brought to fore the faulty edifice of the regime that claims to be secular and equalitarian because it is a republic. The regime faced the Alevis unprepared and undecided to do what to do with them.

This unpreparedness (one may read this reluctance as well) is evident in the void of a official figure regarding the size of the Alevi population just as the number of Kurds in Turkey. The sheer choice of not counting them in national censuses is because their collective existence is not acknowledged. They have been seen and treated as a deviation from the Turkish and Sunni mainstream of the country. That is why their secular and equalitarian values have not been tapped and used to support the republican regime that ought to be the depository of popular will of equal citizens? Unfortunately, the regime as it is neither secular, nor the republic is a reflection of the will of the people. This fact is the mother of most political problems in Turkey.

The founding elite of the republic faced a religiously heterogeneous population composed of different confessional groups of Islam and numerically relatively small groups of non-Muslims. Under the affect of the agony and distress of loosing large tracks of land in Eastern Europe fueled by wrath towards non-Muslim populations that rose for independence and tore away from the Empire, the new ruling elite did not trust the non-Muslims remaining on the lands they claimed to be theirs. Most of the republican elite were of Balkan stock and they fought as soldiers against Balkan nationalists or tried to hold on to their genuine homeland in Eastern Europe as state officials. They failed and they did not want a second failure in what had remained as ‘homeland’ which they did not want to share with undependable ‘others’. And others were non-Turks and non Muslims.

However, ethnic consciousness in Anatolia due to the imperial legacy was weak because it could be detrimental to holding together a multi-national entity. So Turkishness should be cultivated as a supra-ethnic identity. This ideological project had a religious infrastructure that facilitated its realization. Ottoman peoples were categorized as religious groups and Muslims were deemed to be a separate nationality. The republican elite found it expedient to call every Muslim in the national territory a Turk. By this definition the Kurds and Alevis should be included into this lot. However, the Alevis were discriminated because they were not Sunni and the Kurds were discriminated because they insisted to remain Kurdish, especially in the countryside.

Given this backdrop both the projects of secularism and nation building based on ethnic purity were fatally flawed. I call this “production flaws”, that later surfaced as conflicts between communities that were favored by the state as ‘real or approved citizens’ as opposed to ‘false or unapproved citizens’. What is witnessed today in Turkey is a conflict that lies on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.

Efforts of becoming visible at the public sphere, acknowledgement and participation which really means search for legal equality and normalization of the system by inclusion and democratization have been met with serious official resistance and popular (read this as Sunni) physical assaults. Pogroms took place on the 18th of April, 1978 in Malatya, 24th of Decemner, 1978 in Maras, 29th of May, 1980 in Corum, 2nd of July, 1993 in Sivas and 12th of March, 1995 in the Gazi district of Istanbul executed by anti-Alevi mobs that were orchestrated by clandestine official elements that wanted to keep the Alevis out of sight and power. They knew that acknowledgement and inclusion of the Alevis would democratize the system and make it more inclusive. This transformation would in turn change the spirit and body of law and the shape of public administration.

Yet the Alevis did not surrender to these pressures. Turkey’s bid for European Union (EU) membership required fundamental change in state oriented laws to more human/individual oriented laws. Alevis finally saw the light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. Now they are claiming their long denied rights that are no different from those in any full fledged democracy. However there is a bifurcation among Alevi demands. A group of Alevis want a place under the state umbrella, yet others want total freedom from state control and guidance. For example, while all Alevis want their assembly houses (Cem Evi) to be acknowledged as a shrine, some of them prefer that they be subsidized by the state while the others prefer that their shrine should be communally run and subsidized. On another account, while a group of Alevis want the state to remain at a distance to all creeds and leave religious affairs to concerned communities, yet another group wants the initiation of an Alevi section under the roof of the Administration of Religious Affairs, that oversee religious education and services of the Sunnis as a government agency. While a group wants religious teaching is a family and community affair, another group wants the teaching of Alevi creed in schools as part of obligatory religion classes. The first group points at the contradiction of obligatory religious education in school, especially one interpretation of (Sunni) Islam in a country run by a putative secular government.

Now all these matters are ardently debated at all levels of society that is searching a way out of an authoritarian, exclusive, half-democratic system that hardly caters for the needs of people in a changing world and evades the reality of social and cultural plurality. Alevis seem to be resolute in participating in the making of an equalitarian and pluralistic political system where tolerance to differences is internalized and institutionalized. Their success will be the guarantee of Turkish democratization and catching up with contemporary political and legal standards. And that is good for everyone.


The definitive document concerning non-Muslim minorities in Turkey is the Lausanne Peace Treaty that was signed in Switzerland on 24 July 1923, between Turkey and the following states: the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes following the national struggle for present Turkey as a sequal of WWW 1. During the negotiations the Turkish national delegation insisted that the international reference to minorities that is worded as, “racial, linguistic and religious minorities” is replaced with the term “non-Muslims.”

Furthermore, the definition of minorities adopted in the Lausanne treaty was not based particularly based on a general understanding of “religion” (i.e. all religions). Rather the operational terminology to this end was reduced to only “non-Muslims”. Had the parameter of religion been accepted, the Alevis would also been also recognized as a minority and therefore protected by international guarantees. The guarantor agency would be the League of Nations and rights stipulated in the Treaty would not be modified without the concent of the majority of the Council of the League of Nations.”


Although the official rhetoric is “We will not allow the violation of the Lausanne Treaty, it has been the state that has systematically violated or denied the rights granted to its non-Muslim groups under Section III.

The Rights Granted to Non-Muslim Citizens have not been Fully Implemented

The violation of the rights of the non-Muslim populations has been realized in two forms:

1) Not all of the non-Muslims were allowed to enjoy the rights granted to minority groups. These rights were, from the onset, applied to the three largest minority groups only: Greeks, Armenians, and Jews although the Treaty does not single them out in any of its articles. Yet, less numerous Christian groups, such as Syriacs, Caldeans, Assyrians and Nestorians have been denied of the coverage of the Treaty’s provisions by the state. As a result such groups have been deprived of the right to “establish, manage and control... any ...schools with the right to use their own language… freely therein” (Article 40), and of the right to establish foundations, etc. The reason for excluding these groups was probably because there was not enough international presssure from the international community (western powers) to include these eastern Christians into the Treaty’s protective coverage.

2) Some rights spelled out in the Treaty were denied even to the three acknowledged non-Muslim minority groups like financial assistance (stipulated in Article 41/2 and not realized until 1950s) or the rights concerning religious foundations (expressed in Article 42/3) were rendered inoperational after 1936 until 2002.

The abuse of the unfortunate “1936 Declaration” of non-Muslim community foundations is a striking exaple of lawless treatment of minorities. In 1936, the Law of Foundations stipulated thatr all of the foundations (MUslim or otherwise) to submit a property declaration listing immovable and other assets in the ownership of the foundations. At that time the state was very concerned about obscurtantism (Islamic fundamentalism) that was seen as threat to the secular threat. The government wanted to see how much financial power the foundations wielded. Later these the lists of the assets owned by foundations were shelved until the Cyprus conflict erupted between Turkey and Greece in the 1970s. The official attitude towards the Greeks and other non-Muslim minorities changed drastically. The General Directorate of Foundations demanded that the non-Muslim foundations resubmit their constitutive (founding) statute (Vakıfname). However, none of them had such a statute, because they had all been endowed during Otoman reign.The General Directorate of Foundations resorted to an unlawful initiative by declaring that their declarations of possessions dating back to1936 would be considered their endowment statute. Unless these so called statuses did not carry a special provision enabling the foundation to acquire immovable assets, as they could not have, the government would expropriate all of the immovables acquired after the year 1936. The real reason behind this obstrusive injustice was the intension of the national (explicity Turkish) state to transfer capital from the non-Muslim minority entrepneurs to their Muslim-Turkish counterparts. Expropriations were carried out in stark violation of the Lausanne Treaty.

The non-Muslim minorities applied to the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) for the correction of this unlawful act. In long years that the case dragged on following decisions were reached, each of which were a shame for the judiciary. For example, the Second Legislative Branch of the Court ruled on 6 July 1971 that, “It is evident that the acquisition of immovable property by non-Turkish legal persons is forbidden…” However, the defendant was not a “foreign” legal body. Yet, the General Board of Legislation of the Court which the case was appealed to ruled the same way on 8 May 1974. This fatal decision was endorsed once again by the Court’s First Legal Department in the following year with a shameful verdict:

“… Foreign nationals are forbidden from acquiring real estate in Turkey. Because these decrees concern the public order, there is nothing against the law for the plaintiff institution to challenge the unlawful behavior of the defendant institution, or in taking legal action for the annulment of the unlawful disposal…[I]t is unanimously decided that the improper appeals be rejected and the court decision be approved.”

Later, upon a repeated appeal the same Branch of the High Court of Appeaals admitted its fault in naming Turkish citizens as foreigners because they were non-Muslim, but insisted on its discriminatory position in the new ruling of 11 December 1975 and denied the request for correction of judgment.

The Rights Granted to Groups Other than Non-Muslims are not Honored

The Lausanne Treaty acknowledges minority groups other than non-Muslims. These are specifically Citizens of the Turkish Republic who speak languages other than Turkish. Furthermore the Treaty grants rights to two other groups, all citizens and all inhabitants of the Republic of Turkey.

Citizens who speak languages other than Turkish would be provided with adequate facilities for the oral use of their own language before the Courts (Article 39/5). The rights of this group would also include the rights recognized for all citizens. In fact, Article 39/3 of the Lausanne Treaty clearly stipulates that “differences of religion, creed or confession shall not be the base of any discrimination; and Article 39/4 articulates the right to use any language in matters relating to citizens’ private or commercial relations. The rights of non-Turkish speaking citizens of Turkey are also offered to all inhabitants of the country. They would enjoy “full and complete protection of life and liberty without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race and religion” (Article 38/1) and would be entitled to free exercise of religion or belief (Article 38/2), and without distinction of religion, they would be considered equal before the law (Article 39/2).

To every one of these groups named in the Lausanne Treaty, it grants various rights that cannot be annulled (Article 37). Nevertheless, by articulating the rights for “all Turkish citizens” and even for “everyone living in Turkey,” the Section III makes the Lausanne Treaty go beyond minority rights and offeres a pioneering document of human rights.

However, the encompassing character of the Treaty has been neglected and denied with the justification that the aforementioned articles pertained to the section on non-Muslim minorities.

If the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty were duely and justly observed and implemented, for example Article 39 would ease the tensions centering on the free use of the Kurdish language. Had Paragraph 5 of the article been put to use Kurds and other citizens with mother tongues other than Turkish could “use their own language before the Courts” or the principle ingrained in Article 39/4, namely; “No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private communication, in commerce, religion, in the press, or in publications of any kind or at public meetings”, were observed Turkey could have been a much more stable and cohesive country, allocating its human and material resources to more productive areas than prevention of conflict emanating from restrictions on cultural expression. The natural extension of these freedom today would be radio and TV broadcasting in languages spoken by citizens of Turkey other than Turkish. Unfortunately such a right was granted too late, after so much bloodshed and internal strife.


The official resistence to granting rights on freedom of cultural expression emanates from both failure to admid the cultural diversity of the society they ruled over with the pretense that it was a moniltic body without differencces as well as failure to manage this diversity.
The character of the official monistic view of social reality can be seen in Article 3/1 of the Constitution: “The Turkish State is an indivisible entity with its territory and nation. In this expression it is obvious that both the nation and the motherland is an intergral part of the state and stand in hierarchic relationship with it. This staement renders the state onipotent and omniperesent in every societal affair dictating its will at all times and circumstances. Article 4 stipulates that these principles besides Turkish being the language of the state (not official language) can neither be amended; nor their amendment be proposed.”

“Territorial integrity” of a State is a common international legal Standard. Minority rights are afforded provided that they are not abused by minority groups for divisive/seperatist purposes. That is why minority rights are of individual character rather than collective. They are afforded to minorities on the condition that they respect the territorial integrity of the country they are citizens of. However, the Turkish Constitution contgains a particular clause that reads as “integrity of the nation”. Thisis a stardard understanding of the society leaving no room to either cultural diversity (religious creed, lingusistic or ethnic origin) or to political conviction. Hence it is undemocratic and corpooratist in essence. The politics of such an understanding is oppressive and assimilative. It is no wonder that military coups have been legitimized by this constitutional principle that caused so much agony in the society and retarded Turkey’s development. It also legitimized state tutelage over the society at the core of which stood the military.

The mentality behind these authoritarian laws that afforded restrictions rather than freedoms were the fear of the minorities that were deemed as fifth column of sinister foreign powers whose ambition to destabilize and partition Turkey never ceased to be. This paranoia found its expression in the wording of a sundry of laws:

For example until its amendment on 2 January 2, 2003, Article 5 of the Law on Associations read as: “It is forbidden to form an association with the aim of declaring that there are minority groups in the Republic of Turkey based on racial, religious, sectarian, cultural or linguistic differences or of creating a minority group by protecting, developing or spreading any language and culture other than Turkish …”. The 2003 amendment mitigated the language to some extent: “No association can be founded with the aim of creating differences of race, religion, sect or region or creating minorities based on these differences and with the aim of changing the unitary state structure of the Republic of Turkey”. Such an act was viwed as a “violation of national security and the public order.”

The Law on Political Parties was full of other authoritarian clauses that limited civic rights and liberties. Article 81 stipulates that, political parties shall not claim that there are minority groups in the Republic of Turkey. That emphasizing differences would not hamper the integrity of the nation by creating minority groups by developing and spreading languages and cultures other than Turkish.

Aricle 68 of the Political Party Law decrees that “the statutes and programs, as well as the activities of political parties shall not be in contradiction with the independence of the State and integral unity with its territory and nation.” Article 69 guarantees that political parties will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court in case they are engaged in such activities. Considering that the Constitutional Court has dissolved more than a dozen political parties, this is not just a principle of deterrence but rather a serious punitive clause. Hence any person or collective entity should shy away from claiming that there are minorities in Turkey and thus create one by the sheer effect of this statement for there are and have never been minorities in Turkey other than those mentioned in the Lausanne Treaty.


Two factors began to alter the authoritarian and illeberal spirit of the Turkish legal system. The first was the historical parties of mainstream political parties whose basic instict was to uphold the status quo and relied on the state apparatus to do so. 2002 national elections ended in the victory of a new partyç namely the Justice and Development Party (AKP) that represented the socio-economic periphery that have been kept out power since the onset of the Republic. Members of this party owed little to their ascent to prominence and livelihood as opposed to the old elite mainly of bureaucratic origin.

Not only their political understanding and organization was more popular, but the party’s leadership was more organically linked with the populace contrary to the state elite that drew its power and privilige as wsell as livelihood from state service.

Coming from the periphery and from much more humble social standing, the AKP government that has stayed in power since 2002 needed to open room for themselves and their entrouage thus making the system more ‘people oriented’ and inclusive. This meant more democratization and altering the authoritarian character of the legal system that protected the state from the people.

This trend coincided with enhanced reaprochement with the European Union engineered by the AKP who saw upgrading the legal and political system as its own protection for all the forces of he old system was waiting for the opportune time to bring it down by legal (existing state and security oriented laws) and illegal ways (like coups). In this regard a series of legal amendment packages were put into effect including parts of the constitution. Together with comprehensive constitutional amendments realized between October 2001 and the end of 2004. Starting in early 2002, the parliament adopted eleven “EU Harmonization Packages,” that combined amendments/improvements of existing laws and codification of new ones that aimed at harmonizing Turkey’s laws with that of European Union countries.

The most important change was realized concerning minority rights during the second constitutional amendment package in May 2004. A seminal paragraph was added to Article 90/5 of the Constitution that read: “Should national laws contain contradictory clauses with the principles of international treaties on similar issues of fundamental rights and freedoms that are duly put into effect, the provisions of international law would prevail.”

In October 2004, a new Penal Code was adopted easing the restrictions on basic individual rights and freedoms with the aim of protecting the citizen rather than the state. However, the Turkish judiciary that sees itself as the agent of the state and guardian of the regime rather than dispensing justice has been relatively reluctant to change focus during the practice of its craft.

But the gene is out of the bottle. The process of change towards democratization and liberalization has started. The Turkish society has come to terms with the plural reality it has inherited from history. It is time to manage that purality through a pluralistic poitical system relying on more contemporary laws that guarantee rights and freedoms of the individual and open up vestiges of acknowledgement, inclusion and statutory equality for minorities. There will always be minorities in a society. What is important is the existence of a legal and political system that does not allow them to feel like a minority.

Given the evidence of a burgeoining deliberative atmosphere in Turkey where the forces of the staus quo is regressing and popular will is becoming more exertive, minorities including Alevis and Kurds are taking up more of the public space and influencing the political agenda in search of their rightful place in the system.

* Prof. Dr., Faculty of Political Science, Ankara University